Where were you a year ago? As 2010 was drawing to a close and 2011 stretched out before you, what did you expect the new year to bring? Have your hopes been met? Or have you been disappointed instead?
The end of the year is always a time of introspection for me. I know the new year is an arbitrary thing that doesn’t mean anything other than what we bring to it, but I still end up thinking a lot about the year I’ve just been through and the year that’s about to start. I evaluate what I wanted from the year just ending and I think hard about what I want from the new one.
This thinking can leave me emotional and introspective, so I’ve been feeling a lot of things strongly this week. I’m impatient about some things. I’m angry at myself about others. I’m determined and focused about yet other things. I’m happier with where I am today than I was a year ago, even though I didn’t make as much progress as I’d hoped.
Every year, the slate is wiped clean and we get a new year, but that doesn’t mean we can wait forever to start the things that matter. We have choices about what to do with each year. If you spend a year wisely, you can build something else on top of that year in the years after that. But if you squander the years — and never start moving toward being the person you need to be or toward doing the things you need to do — you reach a point at which some doors start closing.
There’s a famous line in the last letter we have that the apostle Paul wrote. When Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, he was in prison and might have been just weeks from his death. We don’t know the details. What we do know is that he speaks to Timothy of many things, but closes with personal instructions and requests (in the fourth chapter):
“Do your best to come to me soon. … Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. … When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. … Do your best to come before winter.”
Winter was a time when it was difficult to travel in those days, so Paul knew it was important for Timothy to come quickly. More importantly, he had already been brought before a court and he must have sensed that the end of his life was coming.
We face many possibilities in life. When we’re at the beginning of a year, they can all see fresh and new as the new year stretches out ahead of us. But with some things, winter can come for opportunities and possibilities. If you delay taking a path for too long, the passage of too much time can mean that winter arrives and blocks your path. We all need to consider carefully what we really want — and what we feel in our spirits that we’re called to do — and we need to weigh Paul’s advice to Timothy. We need to “come before winter” if we’re going to come at all.
But as I face the new year, I know that I’ve at least started working toward some things that matter, confident that God is sovereign and that past mistakes can be overcome. I started hoping — and believing — for unseen things at about this time last year. I haven’t achieved all I wanted to achieve, but I’m confident that I’m doing the right things — putting one foot in front of the other and trusting that things are slowly working as they should.
A year from now, I know I’ll be back here — in the metaphorical sense — evaluating what I did with 2012. I hope I can be proud of the progress I’ve made by then. I hope I can like the person I am better by then. And I hope I can be making more of a difference for people around me by then.
When spring is here, the world feels full of unlimited possibilities. In the summer, it still feels as though you have forever to take advantage of opportunities. By fall, you realize that you have no more time to waste. It’s time to become the person you need to be — with no more wasted time. That’s what I’m trying to do.
I slept through much of my spring and summer, but I’m wide awake now. I’m trying really hard to come to my intended place in life before winter. I don’t know whether Timothy was able to visit Paul before his death. I assume he didn’t make it in time. But I know that opportunities are open to me right now. I intend to take them before winter comes.